August 1, 2010

1925: Tim Mara Founds the New York Giants

Timothy J. Mara was a bookmaker in New York City – which was legal at the time – when he arrived at the office of Billy Gibson, manager of heavyweight boxer Gene Tunney. He had hopes of buying part of Tunney’s contract, but instead paid the $500 fee to gain a franchise for New York in the NFL.

NFL President Joe Carr was wooing Gibson as a potential franchise owner, but found a more willing taker in Mara. Mara, for his part, knew nothing about pro football but believed that a franchise for anything in New York City was surely worth $500. On August 1, 1925 he officially became owner of what would be named the New York Giants.

Dr. Harry March was hired to recruit talent for the new team and Bob Folwell to coach it. The club played at the Polo Grounds, which they shared with major league baseball’s Giants (hence the choosing of the same name). The assembled talent included FB Jack McBride, tailback Hinkey Haines, end Lynn Bomar, and G Art Carney, who were All-Pro selections after a season in which the Giants finished a respectable fourth in the 20-team NFL with an 8-4 record.

On-field success had not yielded off-field profits, however, and Mara found himself $40,000 in the red at the conclusion of the 1925 schedule. However, the Chicago Bears came to New York as part of the off-season barnstorming tour to exploit the talents of star halfback Red Grange. A crowd of some 65,000 fans showed up to see the player known as “the Galloping Ghost” in action against the Giants, enough to wipe out Mara’s debt.

Ironically, it was the same Red Grange who nearly destroyed the Giants in 1926 when he and his agent, C.C. “Cash & Carry” Pyle, started a rival pro football league (the first to be known as the American Football League) and placed a franchise in Yankee Stadium that featured Grange himself. To add insult to injury, the new league’s Philadelphia Quakers hired Coach Folwell away as well as highly-regarded tackle Century Milstead.

The Giants survived, however, while the AFL folded after a single season (they also gained some satisfaction in defeating Folwell’s league-champion Quakers in an interleague challenge game, 31-0). In 1927, they won their first NFL title with an 11-1-1 record. Setting the pattern for future successful Giants squads, this club succeeded with a solid but unspectacular offense and outstanding defense (they gave up a total of just 20 points over the course of the 13 games – 10 of the contests were shutouts).

Mara turned over co-ownership of the franchise in 1930 to his sons, Wellington and Jack, although he continued to control the team (the sons were only 14 and 22, respectively, in 1930). In 1946, actual control of the club went to the sons, with Wellington handling the football side of the operation and Jack the business side. The Giants were typically successful on the field - from 1933, when divisional play leading to a championship game was introduced, through 1958, the last season prior to Tim Mara’s death, the team participated in 10 of those title contests and won three of them (four championships overall counting 1927).

Tim Mara died in 1959 and was selected as a charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963. Jack Mara passed on in 1965 and his son, Tim, inherited his role in the organization and settled into a long-running feud with his uncle until he sold his half of the club to Robert Tisch in 1991. Wellington Mara remained the public face of the Giants until his own passing in 2005, and after he, like his father, was enshrined in Canton.

The Mara family continues to hold a co-ownership in the club that Tim Mara founded (his grandson, John, is the current team president). The franchise that he paid $500 for in 1925 is now valued at well over $500 million.